Displaying items by tag: Round Ireland Yacht Race
Close north of the Blaskets at 1900hrs Sunday, the Volvo Round Ireland fleet leaders on the water - the Class 40 Corum and the Ker 43 Baraka GP - are sailing a textbook race in terms of handling the vagaries of the north to northeast headwind writes W M Nixon.
Yet there’s no getting away from the harsh fact that the predicted wind patterns for the next day or two are comprehensively stacked against them. It looks very much as though, once they get to each corner of our once green but now increasingly brown drought-stricken island, that the pesky wind will veer yet again, serving up another beat.
For Corum, it’s of less concern. She is racing within Class 40, and with her nearest challenger Sensation dropping out while close west of the Skelligs at 15.17 this afternoon, she has next in line Hydra neatly under control.
But for Niall Dowling’s Baraka GP, the much more widely encompassing IRC handicap system means that the slightest reversal of fortune will see boats in their dozens slip into place ahead of her.
"the slightest reversal of fortune will see boats in their dozens slip into place ahead of Baraka GP"
For sure, she still has the Line Honours trophy in sight. And in this meteorologically crazy summer, Heaven alone knows what might have happened by the time she has sailed the remaining 440 miles to the finish at Wicklow.
But a remorseless pattern is developing, and where she was once leading IRC overall, she is now back in 22nd place. Meanwhile, the smaller boats are making hay off the south Kerry coast, and by the time tomorrow when Baraka is rounding northwest Mayo to find she has another beat to Tory Island, the lesser fry will find they’re hoping for a bit of a favourable slant along towards the coast of Connacht.
Going into the second night, renowned French builders JPK of Lorient can be well pleased, as the JPK 10.10 Jaasap (Nicolas Pasternak, France) is leading IRC overall, while now in second place is Paul O’Higgins’ JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI, hoping for some nice and breezy grown-up windward work to show her true potential.
Third is the French Sunfast 3600 SNSP Hakuna Matata, fourth is the J/109 Joker II skippered by Commandant Barry Byrne, fifth is Stephen Quinn’s J/97 Lambay Rules, and sixth is yet another JPK, the 10.10 Jangada.
Although the pack is being continually re-shuffled, some names are now appearing more frequently than others. By tomorrow morning, we’ll see how clearly this pattern has become established.
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A Round Ireland Race favourite, Riff Raff, the canting keel Cookson 50, has retired 'due to gear failure'.
All on board are safe and the British entry is heading for port in Cork Harbour.
It only added to the drama of the colourful sailing spectacle that has attracted a significant international entry and hundreds of shoreside spectators plus a flotilla of support boats for the Irish classic offshore fixture.
There were perfect north easterly breezes and choppy seas for a fast start under spinnaker for the 55–boat fleet from the LE Orla Naval vessel. The race was under the command of race officer David Lovegrove, a former Irish Sailing President.
Noel Dowling’s 43-foot Baraka GP, hotly tipped for overall success, made a perfectly timed start to be placed at the favoured end of the 600-metre start line only to suffer damage to her sails seconds into the week-long race.
Despite the long line, there were very congested waters at the committee boat end.
Dowling’s crew rapidly prepared an alternative sail but the French Mach 40 Corum (Nicolas Troussel and Ian Lipinski) and Jersey-based Phosphorous II (Mark Emerson) seized the opportunity to be the very early fleet leaders in this marathon race but even before the fleet passed Wicklow Head, Dowling’s Fast Ker 43 was already back in command.
"There were perfect north easterly breezes and choppy seas for a fast start under spinnaker"
Only boat lengths behind were Riff Raff, Brian McMaster’s Cookson 50 and some smaller but no less potent entries such as Paul O’Higgins on Rockabill VI, Chris Power Smith’s Aurelia and WOW George Sisk.
As the fleet passed Wicklow lighthouse, Dowling continued on port gybe out to sea and headed due south-east, a move that the bulk of the fleet followed out to sea carried by a strong ebbing tide.
Corum, with three crew on board, on the other hand, opted for a course close to the shore and gybed along the coast towards Arklow.
At the slower end of the fleet, double race winner Cavatina from Royal Cork YC, was also making good progress under spinnaker.
However, as forecast, the fleet is not expected to have stronger winds for over 24 hours, perhaps even after approach Tuskar Rock when northeast winds could reach double figures. North easterlies are expected to increase up to 20 knots on Monday, to hopefully give the fleet faster reaching conditions along the south coast but the real dilemma is will the underlying east to northeast gradient wind prevail over high summer night breezes off the land?
The 700-mile race is anticipated to take up to five days to complete, with the biggest boats expected home early next week.
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It was the dogged determination of Wicklow Sailing Club 38 years ago that brought about the beginnings of an event which has since become an internationally-recognised cornerstone in the complex structure of the Irish sailing programme writes W M Nixon. Today, the 20th staging of the biennial 704–mile race around our island home gets underway at 2.0 pm in what is now the time-honoured manner off the Wicklow pierheads. And as it does, we’ll remember those who got it going, and kept it going, so many years ago. And we’ll also remember their successors who have kept it going ever since, through times good and bad.
There’ll be a Naval Service guardship in attendance in proper style to mark the starting line for the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2018, while the characterful little port town will be in full maritime festival mode to celebrate the running of one of world sailing’s most interesting and challenging events.
For although in terms of scale it may seem to be far outshone by the great transoceanic and global-circumnavigating races, for the many amateur crews involved, taking part in this race is a major personal challenge. It’s at their own expense, and uses up at least a week of precious holiday time, while also requiring participation in qualifying events. So for them, this is the Big One. This is the special Race of Races, which hundreds – indeed, thousands - of Irish sailors wish to have in their CVs at least once, and in many cases as often as possible.
It provides a race course which has just about everything. And as with any outdoor sport in Ireland, the weather is significant. In fact, being wind-reliant, the weather is absolutely paramount in importance. So the present circumstances of exceptionally summery weather provide yet another twist to the Round Ireland challenge, as the possibility of relying for progress on developing daytime sea breezes, followed by evening calms before there’s a lighter night breeze off the land, makes it seem to be shaping up - to quote one sage veteran of the race - as potentially the most unusual Round Ireland Race ever staged.
Certainly in every way the outlook is about as different as possible from 2016’s race, when the winds (and sometimes the rain) were more than generous, and records tumbled in the face of onslaughts by giant multi-hulls and George David’s all-conquering silver bullet, the mighty Rambler 88.
In terms of excitement and glamour, that 2016 race reached such heights that the more pessimistic assumed that 2018 would seem a bit of a damp squib by comparison. But you’ll find neither “pessimism” nor “damp squib” in Wicklow Sailing Club’s vocabulary. On the contrary, they’ve simply soldiered on with their usual optimism and determination, and with the support of the Royal Ocean Racing Club together with their growing squad of active supporters at home and abroad, they’ve come up with a fleet for this year’s race which is actually more truly representative of the modern international offshore racing scene than any previous Round Ireland lineup, and is healthily split almost exactly 50/50 between overseas challengers and Irish boats.
The entry total has finally settled on 56 boats, reduced by one this week with the sudden withdrawal of the current ISORA Champion, the J/109 Mojito (Vicky Cox & Peter Dunlop) from Pwllheli. While regrettable, it’s put in perspective by acknowledging that Mojito has shown herself eminently beatable by other J/109s, while in last year’s big one, the Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race, she was well bested by Paul O’Higgins’ JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI (RIYC), whose already strong crew for this year’s Round Ireland already includes Mark Mansfield, class winner in 2016, and has recently been further reinforced by the addition of noted sailor Kieran Tarbett.
The main IRC fleet ranges in size from a threesome of smaller craft - the two J/97s (Lambay Rules, Stephen Quinn Howth YC) and Windjammer (Lindsay Casey & Denis Power), together with the potent French Sun Fast 3200 (Jean-Francois Nouel) – all the way up to the veteran Swan 65 Desperado of Cowes, while the selection of mostly modern types is remarkable.
However, in the midst of them are some classic veterans which still give a good showing for themselves when well sailed, and one of the stars of the 2017 Fastnet Race, Paul Kavanagh’s 45-year-old Swan 44 Pomeroy Swan, is returning to the land of his ancestors to race around Ireland in the two-handed division under the name of Cooperation Ireland, an organisation which this international businessman holds in such high regard that he is one of its Ambassadors.
As for age, the oldest entry has to be the 1937-built 43ft gaff ketch Maybird (Darryl Hughes, Arklow & Poolbeg). Tyrrell of Arklow-built, she’s a near sister of Billy Mooney’s famous Aideen which won her class in the 1947 Fastnet Race.
By contrast, the newest entry could not be more different, as she’s the very latest Corum from France, a hot new Open 40 which is so fresh out of the wrappers that so far we’ve only been provided with a photo showing her front half out on recent test sails.
Her two-man crew are very worthy of note, being renowned Figaro veteran Nicolas Troussel, with mini-Transat legend Ian Lipinski. And Corum spearheads a very international open 40 involvement with the Round Ireland Race, as their five entries are drawn from Finland, Norway, and the two from France.
They will of course be racing as a separate division, and in the main body of the fleet - the healthily-varied IRC classes - the favourite on paper has to be ex-Pat RIYC member Niall Dowling with his Ker 43 Baraka GP. With boat captain Jim Carroll (also RIYC), Baraka is fast in everything in every direction. But by streaking ahead in summery weather, while you may indeed be getting yourself that much sooner into more favourable winds, equally you can be first to sail out of wind altogether, as happened with Anthony O’Leary and his Ker 40 Antix in the 2015 Dingle race (which matches the first half of the Round Ireland course) when Antix lost the overall lead to Liam Shanahan’s J/109 Ruth (NYC) and sister-ship Mojito.
So everything depends not only on being able to read the slowly developing wind patterns correctly, but also being in the optimum location as the new breeze sets in. It ain’t easy. In fact, often it’s totally impossible, but old hands will tell you that the secret as calm threatens is never to lose steerage way, even if it means actually sailing away from your destination
Baraka GP and other flyers may zoom away from Wicklow this afternoon in the sea breeze-reinforced east to northeast breeze, and they’ll make fine race-winning progress to the Fastnet and beyond. But on present weather predictions, they might then find fresh northerlies out beyond the Blaskets to slow them back in beating conditions, northerlies which may have veered to more favourable east to nor’east breezes by the time the significant group of smaller but very competitive craft such as Rockabill VI and the four J/109s come along to face the challenges of the west coast.
With their performance sharpened by the intense competition that they have in Dublin Bay, the J/109s can never be discounted, but it’s the unusual combination of 1996 overall Michael Boyd (RIYC) on the Kenneth Rumball-prepared J/109 Jedi which is getting special attention, as Boyd was top-placed Irish skipper overall in the 2016 Race, yet the only class win by an Irish boat was the victory by Dave Cullen’s J/109 Euro Car Parks, which had the formidable talents of Mark Mansfield and Maurice “Prof” O’Connell on board.
This time around, they’re rivals, with Mansfield very present on Rockabill VI, while the Prof has been giving much of his talent this season to Chris Power Smith’s J/122 Aurelia (RStGYC). Thus as recently as Wednesday this week, the highly-tweaked Aurelia was seen out on Dublin Bay testing her very latest and impressive-looking brand-new North headsails, while her kite sizes have also been maximized. So you can be very sure this is no bog-standard J/122, and some of the wise money might be going Aurelia’s way.
But as the fleet spreads out, and we learn that in Ireland our experience in dealing with the high summer sea breeze effect is rather limited - particularly along the West and North coasts – the sheer spread of boats of genuine potential throughout the fleet at every size may well mean that by some stage at least 25 boats will have had a real chance of being on the podium at the finish.
That’s one of the many fascinations of the Volvo Round Ireland Race. You can as quickly envisage a scenario where Roger Smith’s J/109 Wakey-Wakey (Poolbeg & Dun Laoghaire) can find herself towards the top of the leaderboard, for the word is that she’s going very fast indeed these days, if not always in the most favoured direction.
And then while the huge potential of the JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI is rightly drawing the attention of one of the pre-race favourites, let it not be forgotten that the fleet includes two of her older sisters, the JPK 10.10s Jaasap (Nicolas Pasternak, France) and Jangada (Richard Palmer, UK) which showed very well indeed in last year’s Fastnet Race.
Thus if the hottest favourites find circumstance turn against them or they slip up in the slightest way, there’s a whole second tier of very competently-sailed boats ready to step into their shoes. And never under-estimate the importance of character in a tricky race like this.
Current Irish “Sailor of the Year” Conor Fogerty of Howth is doing the race on one of these “second tier” craft, co-skippering with Susan Glenny on the First 40 Olympia’s Tigress. Glenny’s main interest has shifted recently, as she has been appointed to head up the Maiden operation, re-commissioning Tracey Edwards’ historic global-racing maxi. But the deal between her and Fogerty to co-skipper in the round Ireland was set up in Antigua after the RORC Caribbean 600 in February, and they’re sticking with it even though Fogerty also has other distractions.
His Sunfast 3600 Bam! – just back from the Caribbean – is undergoing work down Solent way in preparation for the 1800-mile Round Britain Race in August, which he’ll race two-handed with Howth clubmate Simon Knowles. And then just last week, he sailed his pet boat, the 1976 Ron Holland-designed Half Ton World Champion Silver Apple from Howth to Cork and back, mostly single-handed. This was so that he and the historic boat could join the party to celebrate the publication of the designer’s memoirs at the Royal Cork YC in Crosshaven. So Conor Fogerty is either certifiable or he’s the supreme sportsman and enthusiast or maybe he’s all three, but whatever - his involvement in any race in any boat should never be underestimated.
As the weather forecasts lengthen further into the future, one scenario sees Ireland at the middle of next week in mostly easterly winds while generally, good weather persists. Overall, it is not a picture which is unfavourable to the smallest or the lowest-rated boats, and in these circumstances, one name always comes up on the radar: Cavatina.
The Royal Cork-based Noray 38, campaigned for many years by Eric Lisson and subsequently by Ian Hickey, is an integral part of Round Ireland Race folklore, and her low rating combined with her crew’s ability and determination to keep going and maintain their competitiveness has often been rewarded with success in the past, and it could perfectly well happen again in 2018.
As for the oldest boat in the fleet, Darryl Hughes’ gaff-rigged ketch Maybird, she’ll find in time that she’s sailing a race of her own. But at least the conditions expected for today’s start will give her the boost of getting fairly quickly away from the start area, following which the crew have been told that, if needs be, they’ll keep going for a fortnight to get back to Wicklow.
At that most hospitable of ports, the club and community effort which goes into making this event and its associated shoreside happenings such a major success is awesome in its level of voluntary enthusiasm and commitment. As Wicklow’s Roisin Hennessy, Chair of the Organising Committee, has put it, anyone and everyone showing a pulse have been drawn into voluntary work of some kind to keep the astonishing show on the road.
And today, the action really starts. The trackers will have an intriguing story to tell as the core narrative of the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2018 gets underway.
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The latest entry list from Wicklow organisers features a number of amendments as some boats have become unavailable or unable to prepare in time.
The Pwllheli entry is one of five withdrawals. Also out is the Open 50, Pegasus of Northumberland, the Corby 25, Tribal and the Spirit 54, Soufriere and the 'May Contain Nuts' entry.
Originally 60 boats were expected to start but the confirmed entry-list stands at 55 with boats from seven countries - Ireland, Britain, France, The Netherlands, Finland, Norway and the United States.
Glorious conditions for the 55 boats competing in the Volvo Round Ireland Race are expected over the coming week after the 705-mile classic gets underway at Wicklow Sailing Club on Saturday at 2pm.
The Irish Defence Forces will have a big presence at Wicklow including the Naval vessel Ciara in attendance and a display by the Air Corps Black Knight parachute team in the afternoon. A crew of Army and Naval personnel on Joker 2 will compete in the race aiming to lift a new trophy for military teams.
The forecast for the week suggests light, north-easterly winds for the start meaning the colourful spinnaker sails will be used, adding to the spectacle. Wicklow pier and the Black Castle area are ideal viewing areas. Parking and traffic restrictions will be in place.
Speaking this morning, Defence forces navigator and strategist Mick Liddy, foresees the race taking a full 5 days for them on board J109 “Joker II”. “We expect a northeasterly start with good gradient and thermal breeze given the fine conditions and a rhumb line course to the Fastnet Rock where we will encounter up to 20 knots, the most wind we expect to see. Northwest corner looks most challenging and we expect that we are looking at a predominantly light and tactical race”
Boats range in size from 21 feet to 65 feet and the fastest entries are expected back in Wicklow by Wednesday evening. However, some of the smaller entries may not finish until next weekend depending on wind conditions.
A week-long festival is already underway with family-friendly events running from 10am on race start day at Wicklow Harbour leading up the dockside farewells to the fleet before the crews head southwards.
For most of the Irish sailors who have committed to this year’s 20th staging of the biennial 704-mile Volvo Round Ireland Race on 30th June, it will be the central focus, the core pillar of their 2018 programme. And even though our increasing number of home-grown front-line international professionals might expect to see it as just another fixture in a busy worldwide working sailing year, they find that for anyone Irish, racing round Ireland continues to be something very special writes W M Nixon.
This was the abiding impression which emerged from this week’s decidedly convivial and crowded Round Ireland reception in the Royal Irish Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire. This distinguished and ancient club of significant history has put its considerable muscle behind the much-smaller and more localised Wicklow Sailing Club (which inaugurated the Round Ireland in 1980) for the 2016 and now the 2018 staging of the race. The result has been a mutually beneficial relationship which sees the RIYC in its sheltered location within Dun Laoghaire Marina providing facilities for the larger Round Ireland contenders in the week leading up to the start.
But as the actual start approaches, with this year’s scheduled for June 30th, the final days in the count-down see a total shift of focus down the coast to Wicklow, to a Wicklow which is completely en fete and totally in focus for this one event in a way which a large and complex harbour like Dun Laoghaire could never be.
In terms of planning a Round Ireland campaign, with five weeks to go you’re already well into the final stages, but nevertheless, there’s still the chance that some significant “we’ll show ’em” last minute entries might emerge to add to the 54 boats already listed. And as to that total figure, former organiser Theo Phelan – he stood down in the winter after guiding the event successfully to record numbers through the dark days of the economic recession – reckons it will probably be around 50 boats which finally cross the starting line.
That’s a very respectable total, as the record fleet of the 2016 staging included the once-off appearance of George David’s Rambler 88, which won just about everything for which she was eligible, while there were also the three MOD 70 trimarans which also established what seemed like unbeatable records until later in the season, when the irrepressible Lloyd Thornburg with his MOD 70 Phaedo had another go, and chipped a little bit more off the time to leave what looks like a record so good it deserves to last.
In a way, that Round Ireland Race of 2016 was standalone-exceptional, starting with the fact that George David felt honour-bound to do the race out of respect and for thanks after the crew of Rambler 100 were rescued off Baltimore when their keel broke off at the rock during the Fastnet Race of 2011. As for the era of the MOD 70s, that has peaked and gone.
So for 2018 we’re back to a more normal way of things, with a strong international entry which actually well outnumbers the Irish involvement - it is, after all, part of the international RORC Programme, counting for extra points. But nevertheless the inescapable theme of this week’s party was that this was a gathering of Round Ireland aficionados, or as Roisin Hennessy, the Chair of the Organising Committee put it, we had an assembly of Round Ireland virgins, serial offenders, and addicts, and if you were one of their number, the sense of mutual enthusiasm and fellowship filled the place with warm camaraderie.
It was a good time to thank the many volunteers – it must be just about every member of Wicklow Sailing Club – who keep this show on the road, and after being welcomed by newly-elected RIYC Commodore Joe Costello, WSC Commodore Denise Cummins and David Thomas of Volvo Car Ireland were rightly effusive in their thanks to these dedicated helpers. And it was also rightly a time to give special thanks to the Race Directors past and present, for we’d three of them there – Dennis Noonan who was Mr Round Ireland for so long, then his successor Theo Phelan, and now former WSC Commodore Hal Fitzgerald.
Hal was candid in admitting that while he had some idea of the sheer quantity of work that his predecessors had undertaken to keep this unique show on the road, it wasn’t until it fell on his shoulders last winter that he got a true appreciation of what was involved - it is not a task to be undertaken lightly.
But it is now something which is built into the Wicklow DNA, so instead of dwelling on the backroom work involved, they generated an atmosphere of mirth and fond memories. Appropriately, there were presentations to Theo Phelan and his wife Orlagh, and Theo used the occasion for fond recollections of something rather special to the finish of the Round Ireland Race – the fact that each finishing boat is saluted by cannon fire regardless of the hour of day or night, or their placing in the race.
The empty cartridge from each cannon firing is then presented to the relevant finishing owner when he comes into the Race Office to sign his declaration, and Theo particularly recalls that great sportsman, France’s Baron Eric de Turckheim, when he came into the office, signed his declaration, and was presented with his cartridge shell. The rugged skipper of the highly successful Teasing Machine – highest placed boat overall after Rambler 88 herself and winner of many trophies – found his eyes welling up with tears. The cartridge meant more to him than all the silver and glassware which would follow in due course.
There were many such stories, for Round Ireland memories abounded, but to give it some focus they’d a panel discussion, moderated by David McHugh, for speakers Michael Boyd – highest-placed Irish entry in 2016 and overall winner in 1996 - Peter Wilson who won in 1994 and has been there or thereabouts in many races since, and journalist Elizabeth Birdthistle who was a complete round Ireland novice when she did the 2016 Race with Ronan O'Siochru of Irish Offshore Sailing in the 36ft Desert Star, and now spoke with eyes gleaming in all the zeal of the total convert.
Peter Wilson is one of those fantastic skipper-helmsmen who somehow smooth a rough sea when you’re slugging to windward, yet can find an extra-helpful wave which no-one else had noticed when looking for that extra quarter knot off the wind. Talking to him before the panel discussion began, I naturally asked what angle he’d be taking, and being a man of few words he said he hadn’t a clue, yet once up there and speaking, his face lit up and he conveyed that special feeling which comes when a boat is in the groove and the going is very good.
Elizabeth Birdthistle brought a fresh perspective which reminded Round Ireland veterans of just what an extraordinary project a first tilt at the circuit can seem to be, and how it profoundly affects your life in the countdown, and continues to do so afterwards.
This was a theme taken up by former RORC Commodore Michael Boyd, who has helped to ensure the Round Ireland Race’s current exalted status. Put at its most simple, he persuasively argued that it was something that any true Irish sailor would like to be able to list in their CV at last once. But then he went beyond that, giving it all an almost spiritual dimension which made you think that in another life he would have made a rather good Abbot of Glenstal.
For he talked of the special bonds of camaraderie which become enduring friendships after sharing the Round Ireland experience, he talked of the sense of embracing Ireland in a very special way through doing it, and he talked of how the post-race buzz can in some ways last forever in a way that many of us who have done it have thought afterwards, but he managed to put it in an almost poetic style.
Such elevated thoughts were soon being balanced by competitive banter in the lively crowd, with positions being taken as to pre-race favourites, and there’s no doubt that local-boy-made-good Niall Dowling, returning with the hyper-hot Ker 43 Baraka GP, is highly-rated, as he has ace navigator Ian Moore calling the shots, while James Carroll is managing the boat, and Dalkey-based Kiwi star Jared Henderson is also on the strength.
But then Dowling’s former shipmate Michael Boyd has teamed up with the Irish National Sailing School’s Kenneth Rumball for a private entry of the school’s highly-tuned J/109 Jedi, and even though the design may now be 14 years old, you’re in a dream world if you under-estimate the race-winning potential of a well-prepared J/109, with Pwllheli’s Vicky Cox and Peter Dunlop with Mojito – Irish Sea champions in 2017 – also out there to give it their very best.
As for their nemesis in last year’s Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race - Rockabill - her owner has signed up the formidable talents of Mark “Mono” Mansfield of Cork, and there’s just something about a JPK 10.80 which can pull off a real success when it’s really needed.
As usual in a fleet of this size, and a Round Ireland fleet at that, there’ll be an element of eccentricities in the entry list, and only Stephen O’Flaherty of Howth and RIYC would dream of racing his modern classic Sprit 54 Soufriere in such an event, particularly if they’d heard Peter Wilson talk eloquently of the experience of running down Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard in 40 knots of wind and more, while people back home on the east coast would be thinking it was just a normal mildly breezy summer’s day.
For if there’s one thing a Round Ireland Race teaches you, it’s the exceptionally localised nature of our coastline’s wind strengths, and the way it can test a boat and her crew. I can still remember coming in past Inishtrahull with the most of a Force 9 up our backsides, and yet we knew that the big boats barely a hundred miles ahead down at the Maidens Rocks off Larne were becalmed. Either way, the experience seems at some distance from a cheerful party on a sunlit Spring evening in the time-hallowed surroundings of the Royal Irish Yacht Club.
If it becomes a race of frequent calms, then the little fellows will simply have to sit it out and their handicaps will do the rest, but it’s the sheer unpredictability of the Round Ireland which is part of its unique attraction.
Another attraction for those ashore is that the entire starting sequence can be viewed from Wicklow pier. However, when it’s a reaching start, particularly with the wind offshore, the fleet tends to bunch towards the outer end, out at the Guardship, and well away from the pier.
After one such recent start, I happened to meet up with David Lovegrove, then President of the Irish Sailing Association and a noted International Race Officer, and he commented on the fact that the fleet ended up bunching in on the Guardship.
“If I were the Race Officer,” said he, “and we’d offshore wind conditions like this, I’d be very tempted to put a tiny bias in favour of the inner end of the line in order to keep the fleet in towards the pier and give the viewing public their moneysworth….”
Well, as it happens, there was David Lovegrove at this week’s reception in the RIYC. And for why? Well, as it also happens, for the first time, he is going to be the Race Officer for the Volvo Round Ireland Race on June 30th. Interesting. Very interesting. We’ll certainly all be looking with extra fascination at the way that starting line is laid.
The Volvo Round Ireland Race 2018 - in just eight weeks time on June 30th from Wicklow - will be marking 20 stagings of this biennial classic. When first raced in 1980, it was with a fleet of very modest numbers, mainly of boats of the day. Thirty-eight years later, you’d expect significant change in any sport - and especially so in a vehicle sport like sailing. In our crazy game, developments in hull design, construction techniques, sail innovation, and rig configuration can see some previously unbeatable craft appear to age very quickly writes W M Nixon.
Yet other boats, thanks to some seemingly timeless basic concept, plus the best uses of the International Rating Certificate and the devotion of a loyal owner and dedicated crew, just keep going on and on and on, almost always in the frame. Thus a fleet like that which will be racing round Ireland will be an extraordinary mixture of newer craft set against decidedly vintage boats, with many coming under some sort of “in between” category.
Paul O’Higgins with the JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI – one of the newer boats - will be spearheading a remarkable Royal Irish Yacht Club group challenge in the 50-plus fleet, in a campaign which he will regard as dealing with unfinished business.
O’Higgins was the November 2017 Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Month” in recognition of his sporting approach to sailing. For even when - as in the annual early winter Turkey Shoot series in Dublin Bay – he is allocated a handicap so fierce that he almost has to be finishing when the other boats are starting if he is to have any chance at all of being in the prizes, nevertheless he still goes out and gives his fine boat a canter round the bay.
Equally, he took part in the Calves Week Regatta in West Cork in August in the right spirit, crewed by family and friends. In this case, though, as he was well away from Dublin Bay, he was able to win prizes too. But earlier in the year, we had seen the more serious side of Paul O’Higgins when he and Rockabill VI shipped aboard some seriously heavy hitters for June’s Volvo Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, and they won going away.
It was his most notable major win to date. When the boat was still fresh out of the package in June 2016, it had looked as though Rockabill VI had her class neatly stitched up in the Volvo Round Ireland Race. But they hit one of those spooky localised calms in which this 704-mile classic seems to specialise, and sat going nowhere just east of Inishtrahull for three hours, while Dave Cullen from Howth YC and his merry men were making hay up the west coast of Donegal with the J/109 Euro Car Parks in a new wind, and this swept them into the class win that they held to the end.
The two crews socialized together mightily in Wicklow Sailing Club at the finish. But since then an interesting development has shown that Paul O’Higgins is seriously keen to take the Round Ireland trophy in 2018. The word was soon out on the waterfront that Mark “Mono” Mansfield of Cork, one of the key players in Euro Car Parks’ Round Ireland win, would definitely be doing the next race - but this time it would be aboard Rockabill VI.
However, having past winners on board in the RIYC group effort Round Ireland goes well beyond Rockabill VI’s battle-hardened crew. The top Irish boat overall in the 2016 race was the First 44.7 Lisa skippered by Michael Boyd RIYC. As revealed here last week, he’ll be back in 2018, but this time with the J/109 Jedi chartered from the Irish National Sailing School, with school principal Kenny Rumball (incidentally also RIYC) part of a very complete package. And of course Boyd has further Round Ireland form going right back to 1996, when he won overall with the J/35 Big Ears.
Referring back to the Afloat magazine of August 1996 which reported that race (and God be with the days of leisurely deadlines set by periodical printing dates), we find that the entire crew of Big Ears were jointly the Afloat “Sailors of the Month” for August 1996, and they were Michael Boyd, Jamie Boag, Patsy Burke, Brian Mehigan, P J Kennedy, Tim Greenwood and Michael Moloney.
But perhaps most importantly, the citation also includes Niall Dowling, who was responsible for getting the boat race-prepared at the Royal Irish Yacht Club. He has spread his wings more than somewhat since, and is a major force in Solent sailing, such that he and Michael Boyd teamed up to make Quokka 8 available as the “Steady Eddy” third boat in the winning Irish Commodore’s Cup Team in 2012.
And for 2018, Niall Dowling is back in the Round Ireland scene, but this time with the Ker 43 Baraka GP, which was formerly the highy-successful New Zealand-built American-owned Otra Vez.
The fact that since 2016 there has been a linkup between Wicklow Sailing Club and the Royal Irish YC, whereby the latter offers hospitality to Round Ireland entrants in the week before the race, is the ideal package for boats like Baraka GP, as she can be safely kept in what is arguably the best berth on the east coast of Ireland before sallying down to Wicklow for the start.
But as several seasoned round Ireland campaigners have readily argued, Wicklow is the only place from where the race should start. Not only did the Wicklow club set it all up in the first place so many years ago, but they have stuck doggedly with it since through thick and thin, and the entire town is in the Round Ireland mood as the start approaches. Equally important, no matter how little wind there is, the sluicing ebb out past Wicklow Head soon moves the fleet on its way, whereas a Dun Laoghaire start would find itself competing for space with the intricate Dublin Bay sailing scene, and maybe going nowhere very fast.
That said, in the week beforehand, the growing excitement at the RIYC’s unrivalled totally-sheltered waterfront location is part of an extraordinary ongoing saga which concludes with crews savouring the unique post-finish atmosphere in Wicklow SC – undoubtedly one of the world’s best decompression chambers.
It can become so congenial that we’ve done the circuit with a noted skipper on an 83ft Maxi, and then, having celebrated our finish, we’ve taken our leave of ship and crew with the words of the skipper ringing in our ears, that he too must soon hasten away with the boat to get back to her home port…… Yet a day or two later, we hear that they haven’t gone away you know - the après sailing still goes merrily along in Wicklow Sailing Club. It’s something very special.
Naturally, there are those who’ll say we’ll never again reach the heights of 2016, when George David’s glorious Rambler 88 set the pace for both line honours and the overall corrected time win, while the three 70ft MOD trimarans battled to the very end – and we mean the very end – to be first to finish and set a new round Ireland record.
But Race Officer Hal Fitzgerald of WSC tells us that in terms of solid genuine IRC entries representing Europe’s core offshore racing fleet, they’re actually ahead of the 2016 listing. And while the biggest boat may be “only” 65ft (she’s Richard Loftus’s keenly-campaigned vintage Swan 65 Desperado) there are interesting developments taking place at the other end of the size spectrum.
Sailmaker Yannick Lemonnier of WestSails.ie in Galway makes no secret of his enthusiasm for the MiniTransat 650 boat concept, and last year he persuaded the Volvo Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race organisers to permit three Irish-based MiniTransat boats to sail along with the fleet as a sort of associate entries.
Let it be said that they were by no means at the back of the bunch when they finished, as they set as much sail as your average 30-footer, and their crews are hyper-keen. But in order to attract attention from the main MiniTransat fleet heartlands in France, Lemonnier reckons that it’s the Round Ireland Race which has the real magic ingredient, and his enthusiasm has persuaded the Committee to include an “Associate Division” for two-handed MiniTransat boats, and they’ll be allowed to start with the main body of the fleet.
This latest twist in the story of a great race will in time become part of its mythology, which goes right back to that first race of 1980, when Johnny Morris of Pwllheli with the High Tension 36 Force Tension took line honours clear ahead of Dave Fitzgerald’s 40ft Partizan from Galway, with the IOR winner being the late Jim Poole’s Half Tonner Feanor.
But the “real” winner, under a handicap system set up by Wicklow SC to attract boats which mightn’t normally contemplate cut-throat offshore racing, was Brian Coad’s plump Rival 34 Raasay from Waterford, beginning a Coad-Round Ireland partnership which went on for years.
And it was with the 1982 race that we realised the Round Ireland had really arrived. The great Denis Doyle turned up from Cork with the almost-new Frers 51 Moonduster, already the undisputed Queen of the Irish offshore fleet and an international star in European waters in RORC racing. The Doyle seal of approval was the making of the Round Ireland race, and he was always there on the start line until the end of his days - he kept the lovely Moonduster for an exceptionally long time.
The pace of his involvement was top level from the start. He set a course record which looked pretty unbeatable in 1982, but then promptly bested it in an extraordinary circuit in 1984, going at such a pace that, as navigator John Bourke neatly put it, “we were seeing off an entire Irish county in every watch”.
Since then other names have become a leading part of the story, people like Eric Lisson from Cork with Cavatina and Peter Wilson with Bridgestone and Dickie Gomes from the north with a variety of boats called Woodchester and Eamonn Crosbie from Dun Laoghaire with boats of small comfort but high speed, while Colm Barrington showed us what could be done with a Volvo racer as the race developed such that it is now an integral part of the Royal Ocean Racing Club calendar and points system.
In fact, a gathering of the Round Ireland veterans from down the years who are still happily with us would make for an extraordinary assembly. But perhaps it’s better left to the imagination – these things can get out of hand. Way back in 1972, it was decided to hold an Irish Fastneteers Dinner for everyone who had ever done the RORC Fastnet Race on an Irish boat. It was a spectacular social success, an unrivalled reunion. But anyone who claims to remember it clearly very evidently wasn’t there, as it was that kind of party - the sort of tearaway memory-blocking affair you used to get back in the days before health warnings about safe units of personal alcohol consumption curbed things more than somewhat.
And in any case, it’s much healthier to live in the present and anticipate the near future, which is what the up-coming Volvo Round Ireland Race is all about. The fleet will range between Desperado at the top end (unless somebody is planning to spring a last-minute very big boat surprise, which wouldn’t really surprise us at all) and the MiniTransat “unofficials” at the other end, with mostly boats between 35 and 55ft in between. The one which has won most is probably Cavatina, while the oldest must be Darryl Hughes’ restored classic 43ft 1937-built (at Arklow) gaff ketch Maybird.
On many boats, there’ll be people doing their first Round Ireland. There really is nothing quite like it. Unless you’re a professional and the pre-race display routine is part of the job, it has to be said that Wicklow Harbour in the hours leading up to the start is a nervy and over-crowded place, and secretly you wish the fleet could be allowed to start at one minute intervals in the dark, with no attention whatever.
But then after you’ve sailed at least 704 miles along one of the greatest coastlines in the world, a completely new Wicklow appears ahead. Ideally, it would be a summery mid-afternoon with the Wicklow Hills looking their very best. You close in for the finish and find you’ve done well enough to be in the frame, even if Michael Horgan and Peter Ryan have gone well enough to grab the class lead.
Wicklow SC is in best decompression chamber mode, with welcome showers and pints and much banter and laughter. And then your son, who has raced round Ireland with you, makes it quite clear that you and your oldie mates are now superfluous to requirements - he and his pals will take the boat back to Howth in due course. So his mother appears as though by magic, and takes you up into the Wicklow Hills for a leisurely feed of the best Irish stew at the Roundwood Inn as the sun slowly works its way towards setting in sublime style. And all is very well with the world.
Volvo Round Ireland Race 2018 Entry List here
As entries continue to grow for the 2018 Round Ireland Yacht race, with 30 boats currently entered, Wicklow Sailing Club have announced a new trophy/category for the 2018 race – yet to be named – to recognise the best armed forces entry.
Military teams have always had a strong connection with the race and this decision by Wicklow Sailing Club to announce a new trophy for this category recognises that strong contribution throughout the years as do similar trophies in other offshore races such as the Fastnet race and the Beaufort Cup.
The newly announced trophy will attract interest and bolster the profile of the race within armed forces all across Europe, where offshore sailing is recognised as an invaluable teambuilding and leadership development platform. The close proximity of the Volvo Round Ireland to the hugely successful Beaufort Cup, held as part of Volvo Cork Week, means military teams travelling to Ireland can do both events very cost effectively.
With 15 weeks until the race starts on 30th June 2018, Wicklow Sailing Club is looking forward to welcoming competitors and supporters to the event and to what promises to be a true celebration of sailing.
Early bird entries closing date is 30th March. Enter online at www.roundireland.ie and join us at Wicklow Sailing Club for the 20th staging of the race.
It’s the end of an era. Theo Phelan of Wicklow, who has been intimately involved with the organsation of the biennial Round Ireland Race since 2008, has stood down from his demanding and time-consuming position after ten years in roles of increasing responsibility with the race organisation writes W M Nixon.
During those years as he progressed towards being Race Organiser for 2012, 2014 and 2016, he guided the classic event as it survived decline in the grim post-recession years, and brought it to new strength as the records-breaking Volvo Round Ireland Race of 2016. Always mindful of the need to make the following of the race a more accessible experience, he introduced Race Trackers with such determination that it is believed the Round Ireland was the first mainstream race to make them mandatory.
He also strengthened the links with the Royal Ocean Racing Club to consolidate the Round Ireland’s position in the international calendar, and he developed Wicklow Sailing Club’s co-ordination with the Royal Irish Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire in order to provide the largest boats with a suitable pre-race base.
Speaking to Afloat.ie today, Wicklow SC Honorary Secretary Peter Shearer – himself a longtime member of the Round Ireland Organising Committee – praised Theo Phelan’s dedicated contribution: “It was mainly thanks to Theo Phelan’s determination and dedication that we saw our core event become the hyper-successful Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016. It was a remarkable story of success”.
The Atlantic Anniversary Regatta is the first ever regatta series with two Atlantic Ocean races in both directions. Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Norddeutscher Regatta Verein (NRV), based in Hamburg, Germany. The first part of this extraordinary series was completed in December 2017 with the 2017 RORC Transatlantic Race from Lanzarote to Grenada. The final part of the race series will see the fleet race 3500 nautical miles from Bermuda to Hamburg, starting on 8th July 2018 and it looks like top two sailors in the 2016 Round Ireland Race are favourties in the Anniversary Race too.
For the Bermuda to Hamburg race, George David's American Maxi Rambler 88, is the hot favourite for line honours but his Wicklow challenger from two years ago, Eric de Turckheim in a new 54ft Teasing Machine will also be in contention.
“The great attraction is to be racing on the ocean for so many days, and we have had good results rewarding our efforts, including two records and three fleet firsts.” Commented George David. “The NRV was the host club for Rambler 90s first transatlantic in 2007, and the club set a high bar for organization and hospitality, and we are confident of the same in 2018. The big challenge is keeping the boat together while still going fast. The best advice I can give newcomers to the race; be totally prepared for anything that may happen and sail safely.”
In three different yachts, all called Rambler, George David has raced west to east across the Atlantic on three occasions. In 2007, Rambler 90 took line honours in the HSH Nordbank Transatlantic (11d 16h 13m 59s). In 2011, Rambler 100 took line honours in the Transatlantic Race, establishing a race record (6d 22h 08m 2s). In 2015 Rambler 88 completed the Transatlantic Race winning IRC One (7d 16h 54m 46s). This will be George David's sixth transatlantic race in both directions.
Over 30 teams have expressed their interest to race from Bermuda to Hamburg, competing for Line Honours and under the IRC, ORC and ORCsy rating systems as well as one design Classes like IMOCA and Class 40. Confirmed entries include top performers from the 2017 RORC Transatlantic Race: Overall winner, Eric de Turckheim's Teasing Machine. Winner of the ORC Division, Outsider skippered by Dr. Harald Brüning. Winner of IRC One, Hamburgische Verein Seefahrt's Broader View Hamburg, and winner of the Class40 Division, Mathias Müller von Blumencron's Red.